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A Maid Waiting
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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6
On Lordship and Responsibility

On Lordship and Responsibility


Later in the afternoon Systerien passed Master Frodo sitting beside Master Trevion in the new seating area the King had ordered arranged at the north end of the hallway off of which the residential wings opened, going over record books together. She recognized Lord Canelmir of Bidwell’s crest upon them, and realized the King must have recruited the Pherian to assist those who were investigating the errant lord’s doings. She then was sent to carry a tray of food to the lesser audience chamber where she found Sir Meriadoc and Master Samwise leaning together over one set of books while Lord Faramir and his clerk, attended by a scribe, sat over another. After the break lasting two marks granted to most among whom she worked, as she headed toward the servants’ dining hall she saw that the King’s guard now stood outside the lesser audience chamber, indicating he, too, was likely involved in the examination of the state of affairs in Bidwell.

Most of the visiting lords within the precincts of the Citadel ate the evening meal in the main dining hall, as that was where the King usually himself ate his main meals. But this evening, as soon as they finished their evening meal, she and Airen were sent immediately to the kitchens to fetch trays to the chambers given to the use of the folk of Bidwell. Systerien saw that the jaw of the younger girl was somewhat set, but she made her curtsey to Mistress Gilmoreth, saying, “Yes, Mistress,” readily enough.

Mistress Gilmoreth put out a hand to stay them before they could leave the dayroom. “Wait,” she said. “Has Lord Canelmir said aught to make you uncomfortable or to offend against you?”

Airen looked quickly to Systerien, then back to the housekeeper, started to shake her head, then thought better of it. “It is not so much, Mistress, that he sought to offend me--or either of us, when he arrived yesterday. However, he and his companion spoke freely to one another of their disdain for the needs of the kingdom and those who felt compelled to serve it as if we were not there. He could not understand why his son now felt it necessary to practice with his sword, saying it was not incumbent upon gentlemen to put themselves into any danger. And all I could see was--was my father’s face as he bade me goodbye, telling me he hoped to live through the siege of the city, but that he could not allow Gondor to go without his aid in protecting her capital. He knew he might die, and he was no soldier but was instead one who saw to the repair of the streets of the city. Yet he freely sacrificed himself that the city and realm might stand, while this one....” Her voice trailed off, doing her best to control the tears that were managing to escape.

When Gilmoreth looked at Systerien for confirmation, the older girl murmured, “So it was indeed, Mistress. And he named the King a pretender from the north.”

“I see.” The woman looked between the two of them, pinching the bridge of her nose as she thought. At last she asked Airen, “Would you prefer I send another in your place, child? Alisië, perhaps?”

“Oh, but Alisië came back from their rooms yesterday when they arrived barely controlling her anger. We know not what was said to her--or before her--but she was most distressed. But give me a moment, Mistress, and time but to wash my face, and I will be able to face him bravely.”

Systerien noted the gentle smile of affection the housekeeper gave her companion. Once she would have begrudged such obvious preference for one younger than she; but now she herself had become rather protective of the slighter girl, and found herself approving of Mistress Gilmoreth’s expressed caring. The woman said, “You are one of whom I am proud--I must say that this is true of both of you, in fact. Yes, go and wash your face, Airen, and if you are indeed willing to show him far greater honor than he deserves or realizes, there is the more for you in the end. Their trays ought to be ready when you arrive in the kitchens. I will tell you this--the party from Bidwell does not eat in the chambers given them by choice this time. Rather, the King himself wishes to spare himself and his companions from their company--they have failed to make themselves welcome to the King’s presence, save perhaps young Lord Ivormil, whose behavior has been most respectful during this visit.”

“He has never been less than respectful toward me,” Systerien heard herself volunteer.

“Is that so? Then I will bear the report of it to the King. Go on with the two of you.”

A Guardsman stood outside the door to the chambers granted Lord Canelmir and his party, and on recognizing their errand gave a single rap to the door, then opened it for them to enter. Lord Canelmir was seated at the table, toying with his wineglass, while his son turned from where he stood by the window where he’d been looking out into the gardens. “We have brought your trays,” Systerien said as she and Airen curtseyed together. They then set the food and drink they’d brought upon the table, Systerien carefully setting a plate and eating ware and goblet before Canelmir himself as Airen set out two other places for his son and clerk. Once the bowls of food and carafes of drink had been set in place, she said, “We must go now that others also are served. My lords.” Again the two of them curtseyed.

“Thank you, young mistresses,” she heard, and the two of them realized that Lord Ivormil was expressing the thanks his father would not think to utter. She saw the automatic smile given him by Airen, and together they expressed their own courtesies and withdrew.

Once they were safely out of hearing of others, Airen murmured to her, “How that toad of a Man could father a son so polite by comparison....”

Systerien nodded her agreement, and the two of them went back to the dayroom to learn where they next might be required.

*******


Late the next afternoon, during her period of free time, Systerien chanced upon young Lord Ivormil in the gardens, where he was speaking with Nestrion, one of the young Men who served the Citadel much as Systerien did. Today the service to the folk from Bidwell had been given to these instead of the maids who usually saw to the visitors to the Citadel. Nestrion was smiling as he gave Ivormil a bow and took his leave, and Systerien saw the young lord watching after him with regret at his departure. Then he turned and saw her approaching, and smiled in pleasure. “Mistress--Systerien?” At her nod he looked relieved. “Then I remembered it aright. That is good, I think.”

“Yes, my lord, very good. I am glad to see you out here within the gardens.”

“Yes--I’m allowed some freedom, at least this afternoon. Although there is a Guardsman assigned me.” He nodded to where a black-clad figure stood discretely not far away. “I like to pretend he’s there to keep me from being importuned rather than to merely see to it I don’t seek to flee.”

“And what would you seek to flee? I do not see you as a coward, Lord Ivormil.”

He looked very surprised--and grateful, she realized. “You don’t? I am most relieved. Not that I’ve ever had chance to be tested as has been true of those who’ve fought alongside the King, or walked secretly into Mordor to the salvation of all,” he added. He looked over at the portion of the Citadel where sat the hallway off which the living wings opened. “Lord Iorhael has been sitting there, I’m told, going through some of the records of Bidwell alongside the King’s own clerk and another. He must be totally disgusted with those of us from my father’s household.”

“He left a time ago. He cannot bear to remain too long at a single task, I fear. He was badly hurt by his ordeal, although he seeks to hide that fact from all.”

“I’m sorry my father has been so rude. But I fear he’s always been that way, and so he saw me raised as well. I’m trying my best to do better by those who serve me. I think, however, I will in time dismiss my valet and employ another. Bendred appears to see my attempts at courtesy as unmanly. Perhaps it is not only myself and Cousin Narthord that my father has tainted.”

She felt herself smile, and saw his expression lightening in response.

*******


Five days later word came that Lord Canelmir would be brought before the King on the morrow in public audience, and that Lord Ivormil had been granted separate chambers from those given his father. Nestrion commented to those sitting near himself in the servants’ hall, “Lord Ivormil has so far not been found to be complicit with his father’s wrongdoing. But I have a strong impression that Lord Canelmir will not remain a lord of the realm much longer. He cannot appear to keep his own counsel before servants, it seems, and many of his own keep have arrived to offer witness against him.”

The next morning Systerien, Airen, and Alisië were called apart as the other girls from their dormitory headed for breakfast, and were brought to Lord Hardorn’s office. There was a small table set, and the young Men who served in this portion of the Citadel had just placed upon it food sufficient for six. Lord Hardorn himself stood near his desk where he was speaking with Mistress Gilmoreth as they arrived, and now he looked to the new arrivals, and nodded. “Yes, I agree that this is best, Mistress,” he said. “If you will see it done. Thank you again, Mistress Gilmoreth.” She smiled as she curtseyed and accepted his bow in return, and as she passed the three girls she gave them a nod of encouragement.

The three of them gave their best curtseys, and he inclined his head most gracefully. “I regret I must call you from your meal, young mistresses,” he said. “So I ask that you join me at mine. Ordinarily I would eat in my own chambers or beside my Lord Cousin; but today I would question you before the audience begins, now while Aragorn is down in the Houses of Healing offering his aid there. Now, I wish to know about what it was that offered you offense when you offered service to Lord Canelmir. But, first, let us eat.”

It was intimidating to be asked to eat with the King’s own kinsman and his assigned master of the household; but once the Standing Silence had been offered and they sat down to eat he was so courteous to them that soon all three felt far more at ease in his presence. Then there was a knock at the door, and at the call to enter it opened to admit Captain Peregrin. They all rose courteously at his entrance, at which he looked startled. “You’d interrupt your meal?” he asked. “Oh, no--we can’t allow that, you know. Lord Hardorn, you asked me to attend on you this morning before the audience?”

“We thought you might join us,” the commander of the King’s bodyguard said, smiling. “It appears that our Lord Canelmir cannot keep silence before those he sees as mere servants and guards, and has condemned himself several times over from his own mouth. We were wondering what it was he might have said before you?”

“Lord Canelmir, eh? No, not a particularly discrete individual, Lord Canelmir--neither he nor his kinsman and clerk.” The Hobbit approached the empty chair, turned west briefly, then sat himself on the provided cushion and looked over the table. “Mistress Loren saw to it we had a filling first breakfast this morning; but I would not be adverse to accepting a second one. Thank you, my lord.”

For a time they ate in silence, until at last Captain Peregrin set down his fork and knife, drank the remainder of the herbal drink in his cup, and sat back in his chair. “There’s not a good deal to tell, and Mistress Systerien here was privy to most of it.” So saying, he recounted the conversation between Canelmir and Narthord regarding the ledger that perhaps ought to have been left in their coach. “I will say this--” he added, “I do not believe Lord Ivormil had been aware of just how irregular much of his father’s record keeping was, for his look of surprise and embarrassment had no sign of being feigned.”

Systerien confirmed the Pherian’s tale, and added what she’d heard while she and Airen had helped in the unpacking of Canelmir’s chests.

“Was young Ivormil present?” Hardorn asked.

“No,” she answered.

Airen added, “His father was most disgusted he’d gone down to the Barracks practice ground to practice with his sword. He said it was not incumbent on a gentleman to put himself into danger.”

Hardorn’s face darkened. “No one sought to teach any of us in the wilds of Eriador such things,” he growled. “Many times I wished my Lord Cousin would hold himself back from the worst encounters, and more than once my brothers and I, as well as his Elven brothers, had to force him to stay back that we might face the greater danger. He has never been one to easily accept being forced to stay safe when others possibly went to their deaths. This does speak well of young Lord Ivormil, however, that he takes the lessons offered during his last visit to heart. And he has treated you well?”

“The last time,” Alisië volunteered, “he paid me no mind as I gave service toward him, but he was not purposefully rude toward me, nor did he speak out unwisely against others in my presence--not like his father. This time he has gone out of his way to be courteous.”

“And what was it his father did or said that offered you offense?”

*******


Two hours later the three of them found themselves in one of the waiting rooms, attended by Nestrion and Iorvas, who sought to reassure them. “It will be little enough you must do,” Iorvas explained, “merely say again, this time before the entire court, what it was that was said in your presence, and to answer the questions put to you.”

Nevertheless the three felt very conspicuous as they were led finally before the throne of Gondor to give testimony regarding the behavior of Canelmir of Bidwell. In the end, however, it was enough for the King, evidently, for them to indicate he had been pointedly dismissive toward them, and had spoken unwisely in their presence. They were not asked to repeat what it was he had said before them, for which they were most grateful.

At last the King signed for them to step back. “Canelmir of Bidwell, come again before me.”

The named lord of the realm came forth reluctantly, and with a failed attempt at bravado. “You would think to censor a lord of Gondor?” he asked, then broke out into a sweat when he felt the oppressive displeasure of the entire room.

“Do you ask that of me as he who is merely King of Gondor and Lord of Arnor, or as the pretender from the wilds of the north-kingdom?” Lord Elessar asked, watching his reactions closely. “Did you think that such a statement made before others would not be passed to me? And before you ask, it was your own valet who reported that indiscretion--one, I regret to say, of very, very many. I will ask this--did your son give you no report of what was said to and by him during his last journey here to Minas Tirith, when he sought to set your petition for confirmation before me?”

After a moment Canelmir admitted, “He stated that you asked him to consider the nature of honor, service, nobility, and humility.”

“Even so, my lord. Save I did not ask this of him--nay, I impressed upon him he had best consider the nature of these qualities. These are the qualities that during my youth it was demanded I should nurture in myself and in all who offered to serve alongside me. And these are the qualities I expect to see in all who serve this kingdom as lords of the realm. I’ve not seen any of them within you. In your son, yes--at least the shoots of them, once the prejudices with which he was raised were pointed out to him and turned over that these virtues might have the chance to sprout. But in you?

“You have taken funds intended for others, and have set onerous rents on tenants not your own that you might enrich yourself at their expense and that of their rightful landlords. You have accepted bribes in return for offering unjust justice in your courts. You have favored ever those of means over those who deserved and needed succor. You have offered no service to others or to the realm that you did not feel yourself willing or required to make. You withheld support to the realm when the land and capital of Gondor were under attack, and would not hazard yourself for the needs of your people. You have sold off seedcorn needed by your farmers, and have failed to meet the needs of the very people you were sworn to uphold and protect. Do you wonder why it is you today are being stripped of every honor previously granted by the realm of Gondor?

“I add this--if you think that you would not have been made to stand so before the Lord Steward Denethor, you need to be disabused of that idea now--today. Before his death his agents were already responding to complaints lodged by your neighbors and by major merchants of Bidwell before himself and Lord Forlong. In the last two days we have found the reports already submitted to him, and have spoken with his agents and his former secretary and clerk. You were scheduled to be summoned during this month at the latest to answer to charges laid against you for embezzlement and malfeasance. And I assure you that his planned punishment was one you would not have liked.”

He set the tip of the sheath of his sword against the dais before the throne, the sword upright with the hilts before his face. “Canelmir of Bidwell, you are a disgrace to your rank and the honor you have ever claimed as your own. I hereby strip from you said rank, as the honor you have never truly earned. You will leave our presence today and go forth. The Lord Prince Imrahil has agreed to make ready for you a small house within Dol Amroth where you might dwell in banishment, for none within Lossarnach wishes to ever again see or need to deal with your presence. My own agents are already within Bidwell, and this evening take possession of the keep of the city in the name of Gondor itself. All your possessions and wealth found therein are now confiscated to the realm, and recompense will be made from it to those you have wronged. Your office will be given to another at my discretion. Your name shall be struck from the rolls of lords to the realm, and you will be required to offer service to Lord Imrahil in return for your housing and keep. And should you seek to do poorly in whatever service is required of you, you will then be returned here to my presence, at which time you will be given a far different enforced servitude you will be required to fulfill.”

He then had Narthord brought before him. “You have served your cousin as his clerk and accomplice in stealing from absent landlords and the people under his alleged guardianship. You have encouraged him in false pride and wrongdoing. You have failed to reprove him from sloth or reluctance to serve the realm in a manner appropriate to a lord of Gondor. You have willingly assisted in seeking to hide his embezzlements and acceptance of bribes from others. You are now remanded to the warden of the prison for the Citadel, and in a week’s time you will be branded as an embezzler. When you are recovered, you will be sent into the north kingdom to the town of Bree, where you will be given to the service of the stables at the Prancing Pony for the remainder of your life. And if there is any indication you do less than well by the steeds entrusted to your care there, or any reports of discourtesy to Bob, who will be your master there, or any reports of theft, you will be brought before Lord Halladan as Steward of Arnor and will know his justice. Do you understand?”

Ivormil stepped forward from where he’d been set to watch the justice offered his father and kinsman. “But Bidwell, my Lord King? What shall be done for my city and its folk? Who would you set over them? I know that I am unworthy of such honor as our folk have given me; but I would not wish to see it given to one who will not love the place when I go with my father to Dol Amroth.”

“We do not send you into banishment alongside your father, young Ivormil.”

Ivormil straightened, looking up in shock at the one sitting above him on the throne of Gondor. “You do not?”

“Unlike your father, you have shown every sign of being able to accept correction and learn from instruction. We will consider how Bidwell will be best served over the next few days, advised by those who serve on the Council for the realm. But at the very least we would wish you to return to what was your home to offer what service you can to whatever lord is set over the city. Are you willing to do this?”

“Yes--but then who will be set to serve my father?”

“I think,” the King said slowly, “that too much service has been offered to your father. Nay, it is time for your father to offer service to others instead, for the best lessons are at times learned from experience. And when he must light his own fires, prepare his own meals, and see to the cleaning of his own rooms and to the making of his own bed, it is to be hoped he will begin to appreciate properly those who offer these offices for their living.”

He looked again thoughtfully on Canelmir. “Know this--it is by how you treat those you see as being of the least importance to you that you yourself prove your own nobility, as was taught to our beloved Lord Samwise by his father. One can learn a great deal from the Hobbits of the Shire, or such has been my experience in the last few years. As for how those we might think of as nobility fare there----” He leaned to his left and looked down at the Guardsman standing there. “Captain Peregrin, will you step forward, please?”

The Pherian stepped out to stand at the foot of the dais, where he gave a deep bow. “My Lord King?”

“Tell this company, please, where it was you spent your childhood.”

“On the farm at Whitwell my father farmed, sir.”

“What was raised on this land?”

“We had fields of wheat and barley, sugar beets and maize, and then a kitchen garden to mostly keep the family and our hands through most of the year. We also ran usually about fifty sheep, who in the late spring and summer were sent with the shepherds to the pastures high in the Green Hills.”

“Who followed the plow, did the planting, the cultivating, and the harvesting?”

“My father and our hands, with the help of my three sisters and myself, once I was old enough to assist and not just get in the way. Although my sisters and I mostly helped our mother care for the kitchen garden and the animals that provided for the family and our hands.”

“Who helped with the lambing and sheering?”

“We all did, my Lord.”

“You said you spent most of the year on the farm. Where did you spend the rest of the year?”

“Winters we had to spend in the Great Smial where my father worked alongside the Thain, learning the duties of the Thain and the Took, and assisting him as he could. After Lalia died he had to go there at other times of the year as well for several weeks at a time to go through the Took moots and assist in the gathering of records of harvests, sales to other families and regions within the Shire as well as what trade agreements we might have struck with folk from Bree, as well as to attend meetings of family heads and village heads.”

“Why was this done?”

“Once it was obvious that Ferumbras, who never married, wasn’t likely to live to the majority of any son he might father, should he find someone who’d have him, of course, my father as his closest living male relative was named his heir as Thain and Took.”

“And will you explain to this company what the office of the Thain entails?”

“The office of the Thain was first granted to Bucca of the Marish by Aranarth, the heir to Arvedui Last-king, to stand in the place of the King for our people, as Aranarth’s representative before the Shire. Bucca was to see to the protection of our borders and peoples, to see to it our laws and the King’s Law were kept by the folk of the Shire, to see to it that those who lived where there were bountiful harvests traded with those whose harvests were blighted, and to generally oversee the peace and contentment of the land. He is the highest authority within the Shire itself until the King comes again, although he doesn’t have quite the authority that any king or lord among Men, Elves, Dwarves, or other race we’ve met appears to have. The Thain, the Master of the Hall and Buckland, and the Mayor are the three highest authorities in the Shire, although strictly speaking Buckland, being east of the Brandywine, doesn’t exactly lie within the Shire itself----”

The King was smiling as he raised his hand to cut off further explanation. “Who is now the Thain of the Shire?”

“My father is. And Merry’s father, who’s my uncle, being married to my father’s sister, is the Master of the Hall and Buckland as well as the Brandybuck.”

“And what is Lord Frodo’s relationship to you and Sir Meriadoc?”

“He’s Merry’s first cousin and my second cousin, once removed each way. His grandmother was Mirabella Took, as was Merry’s dad’s; and Merry and I are both the great grandsons of Hildigrim Took, Mirabella’s older brother. And old Cousin Bilbo was Belladonna Took’s son, older sister to Mirabella. Mirabella, Hildigrim, and Belladonna were three of the Old Took’s twelve children, the Old Took being our great, great grandfather--Merry’s and mine, that is--Gerontius Took, who was Thain and the Took in his day. Frodo is the Baggins now since Bilbo left the Shire, Bilbo having adopted him as his heir; Merry is the Son of the Hall and the Master’s heir; and now my da is Thain, I’ll be Thain next, if my father doesn’t kill me when I return home for leaving the Shire without permission.”

There was general laughter throughout the Hall of Kings at this. The King was smiling fondly down at his small knight and Guardsman. “What are your duties as the heir to the Thain?”

“My duties? Much the same as they were when we still lived on the farm--I must help with the chores about the Great Smial, assist in the plowing and sowing of the fields, help in the harvests, turn out during bad weather to help protect our crops and those folk endangered by storms, floods, fires, and other disasters, assist in the sheering and sometimes in the slaughtering of beasts, help with the ponies and stables--my da raises fine ponies, although Merry’s dad cares for a larger herd; help transport bales of wool---- Is that enough for now?”

The King’s lip twitched, “As Sam would say, it’s enough to be getting on with.” Again laughter filled the Hall of Kings. “Who cares for your rooms?”

“I do. Oh, one of the lasses whose turn it is to work alongside the servants will come in once a week to sweep the dust bunnies out from under the bed and help me change the linens, but the rest of it’s my responsibility. My mum works alongside the cooks and housekeepers while my da, once he’s done with paperwork and all, putters in the gardens, goes out to oversee the fields, sees to the breeding and care of the ponies, helps the brewmasters as they’ll let him--he’s not a good brewer, sad to say, cooks a meal just for the family when he can find time----”

Canelmir appeared to find that unbelievable. “You say your father cooks? He’s the ruler of your folk, and he cooks?”

“My da is an excellent cook--always has been! We’re Hobbits--we all cook! And Da is the best cook of venison in the entire Shire, and probably most other lands as well. As for Merry’s dad--you’ll not find a better one for roasting a duck anywhere; and Frodo makes the best baked chicken there is. As for Sam--Sam’s one of the absolute best cooks anywhere in Middle Earth, although we do love some of the dishes the cooks make here in Gondor.”

Again the King raised his hand. “That is enough, Pippin. Thank you--you may return to your post.”

Captain Peregrin turned to the throne and bowed, and returned to his previous position. The King now looked down on Canelmir and Ivormil. “Think on it--a land where the hereditary leader of the folk works alongside his people in the cultivation of crops and the raising and care of the animals his people depend on for food, clothing, and transportation. You’ve not yet seen enough to know that Hobbits must eat more often and at least as much at a time as do Men; they are a people who by necessity must live in direct harmony with the land from which springs their food. And all there are expected to be industrious and care for themselves and others, including those in greatest authority and their heirs.” He examined the two of them closely to see to it that the message sank in.

At last he continued, “We of the northern Dúnedain have lived much the same way for the last thousand years. There have been too few of us for too long to allow our lords to delegate all farming and raising of animals, cooking and cleaning to servants. My father raised cattle and a few horses; my uncle, who served as his Steward, worked in the fields alongside the rest of the village. I grew up within the boundaries of the Elven land of Rivendell, hidden from the agents of the Enemy who would have seen me also dead after the death of my father; I worked as a child alongside Lord Elrond himself in the gardens of the place, aided those who cared for the beasts that fed us, trained as a tracker and hunter to further add to our food stores as well as to keep an eye for the spoor of our enemies, was trained in administration and healing as well as warfare. As chieftain of the Dúnedain I have labored in the sowing and harvests, have chopped and carried my share of wood for purposes of building as well as cooking and for heating our homes.

“It is true I’ve not done as much in the caring for our homes and fortresses as those raised in our villages and fastnesses, for my skills as hunter, tracker, warrior, and strategist have been too much needed by our people--indeed for the protection of all the settled lands of Eriador. And as the one who it was hoped would one day reunite Arnor with Gondor, it was decided I must learn of those lands and peoples I would one day rule, their allies and their enemies.

“So, in my younger days I traveled throughout Eriador, visited Angmar, went over the Misty Mountains into the valley of the Anduin, visited the peoples of what was Rhovanion and the remnant of the Eotheod that remains in the vales near the headwaters of the river, the Beornings, the Dwarven keeps, Eryn Lasgalen--the woodland realm of which my friend and companion Legolas is prince, Dale, Erebor, Lothlórien. I spent time in Rohan and Gondor; ventured into Rhun where I spent time with folk of the d’Bouti clan; and guised as a merchant traveled through Harad and into Far Harad. I even visited Umbar. I speak many languages and know many histories. I have met the rulers of many lands--Men, Elves, Dwarves, Hobbits, Eagles, and now Ents as well. I have traveled by horse, wagon, camel, ship, and on foot. I have fought orcs, trolls, Men, wargs, the Nazgul themselves, and all other enemies of the Free Peoples of Middle Earth. I have seen fair things and foul, climbed mountains and descended into the depths of the earth. I have brought both the sword and healing to more places and peoples than you even dream about.

“And I bear the full heritage of the Kings of Númenor, including the King’s Gift, which I won’t bother to explain to you now. I have now been given the full responsibility to see to it this land and all others I can influence, directly and indirectly, prosper. And it will not prosper when there are those in responsibility who think only to take what they want and do nothing to protect or add to the prosperity of land and people. Much is expected of those to whom much has been given; and when those who have been given much do nothing to care for that given unto their stewardship, then they will lose that which they had considered theirs.”

He looked all about the room. “And I say this not only to those who stand before me now, but unto all who hear my voice. Let it be known that we are here for one another, not for ourselves.”

The room had gone very quiet, and many were looking at one another, most smiling with excitement, a few disquieted as they began to realize what this new rule might mean.

Systerien of Celebstrand felt her own heart lift and her scalp tighten. Yes, this was a different world, a different rule, that was known now. She found herself beaming at Alisië and Airen, heard the former’s squeals of joy, and saw rare color showing itself in the latter’s cheeks.

It was a good place to be, here in the presence of the King Returned, Systerien realized.

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